BioBlitz 2017: fifth graders exploring nature, observing critters, and sharing findings

Jun 09, 2017

On June 7th, students from Clarksburg Elementary School attended a BioBlitz event collaboratively organized by Montgomery County DEP, Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery County Parks and the Audubon Naturalist Society. It was an exciting and science-filled day for everyone!

 

Some days, our jobs at DEP are just downright fun, and today was one of those days!

This morning, we went to Kingsley Environmental Education Center, where DEP staff and scientists from other organizations helped 55 fifth graders from Clarksburg Elementary School complete in a BioBlitz.

If you’re not familiar, a BioBlitz is a national movement that inspires citizens go out into nature and observe and document every single species that they can find. Each BioBlitz is performed in a specific location within a specific time range (typically 24 hours). For example, today the fifth graders were given about 2 hours to find as many species as they could within three distinct habitat areas. The data that we collected today, and the data collected by many BioBlitzers before us, is collected and documented, and scientists use it as an indicator of the biodiversity of that area or region.

What is biodiversity… and why does it matter?

Biodiversity is the variety of life in a particular area, such as bugs, plants and animal species. Having a lot of biodiversity is integral to a healthy ecosystem.

As part of #ChesapeakeBayAwarenessWeek, the BioBlitz was an opportunity for students to learn about the rich biodiversity of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The variety of plants and animals we saw today, each play a part in a much larger system, whether we can see it or not. One obvious contributor to Bay health is the health of our local streams, which flow into the Chesapeake.

Scientists frequently use the presence of amphibians (who are sensitive to changes in their environments) as indicators of healthy stream. We were excited to find many amphibians in our stream today, including a delicate type of salamander known as the “Long-tailed salamander.”

 

A Long-tailed salamander, discovered by DEP intern Danny near the creek bed of Ten Mile Creek.

Amphibians weren’t the only creatures we found today. Here’s a sampling of some of the species the students discovered:

  • Hawk moth
  • Yellow bullhead fish
  • Green frog
  • Northern water snake
  • Downy woodpecker

A hawk moth, identified by our colleagues from the Audubon Naturalist Society. 

How does a BioBlitz contribute to science?

BioBlitzes are cool for so many reasons. First and foremost, they allow anyone and everyone to be a scientist for the day. Volunteers of any age can put their inquisitive minds and observational skills to work to find tiny insects in unexpected hiding places, or discover tracks left behind by an animal on the move.

On top of all that, a BioBlitz is the perfect mash-up of technology and nature. All of the data that’s collected during a session is input through an app called iNaturalist. Created as an open source data project to help citizen scientists exchange data, iNaturalist stores the data on a cloud platform, and adds it to a searchable database available to anyone. iNaturalist also has an interactive map that people can use to understand the range of a certain species.

Getting inspired by the BioBlitz

Councilmember Craig Rice stopped by the event to greet students, check out the ecosystems, and participate in our social media campaign! Here’s what he learned, in his own words:

If you’re interested in carrying out your own BioBlitz, or simply want to learn more about citizen science, visit iNaturalist.org for information and check the DEP water programs page regularly. Now that summer vacation is right around the corner, a BioBlitz may be just what you and your family need to get out and get active! And make sure to check out the website for Montgomery County Parks to find a local park near you, and learn about more fun outdoor adventures!

Huge thanks to all the students, partners, scientists,educators and interns who collaborated with DEP to make this event possible!

Together they found nearly 100 unique species of plants, insects, amphibians and birds. We loved working with Montgomery Public Schools, Audubon Naturalist Society, Montgomery Parks, and the Kingsley Environmental Education Center. Go team!

 

 

By Liz Scanlon, intern in the DEP Office of Sustainability.  

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